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One of the reasons that some accident injury victims hire lawyers is because victims don’t have experience placing a settlement value on a personal injury claim. Insurance claims adjusters are able to take advantage of unrepresented victims by insisting that their claims have little value.

Some websites claim that a “personal injury calculator” can be used to arrive at a settlement value.  That’s not quite accurate. There is no mathematical formula that can take account of all the variables that lawyers consider before they recommend a settlement value to a client. Here are some of the factors that experienced personal injury attorneys evaluate before they advise clients about settlement.


In some cases, fault for an accident is clear. A driver who is patiently waiting for a red light to turn green is not responsible for a drunk driver who causes a rear-end collision. When 100% of the fault for an accident rests on only one driver, the question of fault does not complicate an analysis.

In a significant number of accident cases, however, fault is shared. Intersection accidents are a classic example. In an intersection that has no traffic lights or stop signs, the driver who enters an intersection second should yield to a driver who enters first. But if the driver who enters first suddenly sped up to rush through the intersection, the other driver might have expected to enter the intersection first. In that case, both drivers might share the blame for an ensuing collision.

Different states have different rules that address shared fault. The most common rule compares the negligence of the two drivers and reduces the injury victim’s recovery in proportion to the victim’s negligence. An injury victim who is 25% at fault would therefore recover 75% of full compensation.

Some states do not let an injury victim recover if they were more at fault than the other party. Those states do not all apply the same rule when drivers are equally at fault.

Other states allow an injury victim to recover a proportionate share of his or her damages as long as the victim was less than 100% at fault. A few states do not allow an injury victim to recover damages if the victim had any responsibility for the accident.

Evaluating shared responsibility and applying the correct rule is an important function of personal injury lawyers. Since insurance adjusters often exaggerate the injury victim’s fault, having an understanding of how local juries typically assess fault is a key to maximizing an injury victim’s recovery.

Financial Losses

Financial or economic losses typically fall into the categories of:

  •   Past medical bills and prescription costs
  •   Future medical bills that will probably result from the injury
  •   Wage loss
  •   Loss of future earning capacity
  •   Other out-of-pocket expenses (such as the expense of adding wheelchair ramps to a home)

Injury victims should recover all of their financial losses. When injuries do not cause a permanent or long-term disability, calculating the total is a routine task. When injuries are likely to be permanent, vocational experts, economists, doctors, and other experts may need to be consulted to obtain a full picture of a victim’s future economic losses.

Nonfinancial Losses

Pain, suffering, and emotional distress are typically the largest component of an injury settlement. Some personal injury “calculators” suggest multiplying economic losses by a number (typically between 2 and 5) to value pain and suffering.

Experienced lawyers understand that every case is unique. Insurance adjusters like to use a small multiplier, but the real question isn’t the size of the multiplier, but the award a jury is likely to make.

Personal injury lawyers compare a client’s injuries, and the specific impact those injuries have had on the client, to similar cases in which local juries returned verdicts. That comparison provides a stronger basis for valuing pain and suffering than blind reliance on an arbitrary multiplier.

Insurance Coverage and Intangible Factors

Unfortunately, the availability of insurance and a policy’s limits can have an impact on settlement values, particularly when injuries are caused by an individual who has no significant resources. Some cases settle for the policy’s maximum coverage because there are no other funds available to pay a verdict.

Intangible factors also play a role. Will a jury like the accident victim? Will a jury sympathize or identify with the person who caused the accident? Are local juries known for returning high or low verdicts in particular kinds of cases?

A personal injury lawyer is able to assess intangible factors based on the experience they gain representing different kinds of clients who are involved in different kinds of accidents. No personal injury settlement calculator and substitute for the good judgment of a personal injury attorney.


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